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Park Geun-hye makes first public appearance since impeachment row broke

Published 01/12/2016

Park Geun-hye faces protests over allegations that she allowed a confidante to pull government strings and extort businesses (AP)
Park Geun-hye faces protests over allegations that she allowed a confidante to pull government strings and extort businesses (AP)

South Korea's president has made her first public appearance among her citizens since a huge political scandal exploded in October, as police arrested a man accused of setting fire to her dictator father's birthplace in a nearby city.

Park Geun-hye's visit to a rural market in Daegu came as opponents in parliament squabble over whether to impeach her after protests by hundreds of thousands of people.

Police said they had arrested a 48-year-old man who told investigators he set fire to the birthplace of Ms Park's late father because he was angry over her refusal to step down immediately over the scandal involving a confidant accused of influence-peddling and extortion.

A memorial hall for Ms Park's parents, ex-president Park Chung-hee and Yook Young-soo, was nearly burned down, police in the south-eastern city of Gumi said. The hall is a popular tourist attraction.

Earlier she visited the market in Daegu where hundreds of shops had been destroyed by a previous fire.

Daegu is Ms Park's political home turf where she was elected as a national legislator four times before becoming president in 2013.

Local TV showed dozens of people at the market shouting "Park Geun-hye! Park Geun-hye!" and using mobile phones to photograph her. One middle-aged woman wiped away tears.

Near the market, though, dozens of anti-Park protesters staged rallies calling for her removal, according to media reports.

On Tuesday, Ms Park said she would step down if parliament arranges a safe transfer of power, drawing fierce criticism from main opposition parties which described her overture as a tactic to buy time that would allow her to survive the scandal.

He offer appears to have caused cracks among dissenters in her ruling party who earlier supported her impeachment. A group of anti-Park legislators are now saying they will not join an impeachment drive if she resigns in April and helps ensure a stable power transfer until a new president takes office following a by-election.

A meeting between leaders of the main opposition parties on Thursday ended without any major breakthrough. They differ over whether they should push for impeachment this week or delay it.

Much of the hesitation is because the opposition does not have enough legislators to pass an impeachment in parliament, and they would need help from dissenters in Ms Park's ruling Saenuri Party.

An impeachment motion requires at least 200 votes in the 300-member National Assembly, but the three opposition parties and anti-Park independent legislators have a total of 172 seats.

If impeached, her presidential powers would be suspended until the Constitutional Court rules on her fate. The court would have 180 days to deliberate.

Ms Park has denied accusations by prosecutors that she colluded in the criminal activities of her long-time friend Choi Soon-sil, who, despite having no official role in government, allegedly had a say in policy decisions and exploited her presidential ties to bully companies into giving millions of pounds to businesses Choi controlled.

Choi and two of Ms Park's former advisers have been indicted on charges including extortion and leaking confidential information.

AP

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